Monday, September 15, 2014

A Simple House - September 2014

Every couple of months or so I get a letter in the mail from the folks at A Simple House in Washington, DC. I've written about them before. These are on-fire disciples of Jesus Christ, committed Catholics, who live in a poor part of DC (they're also in Kansas City, MO), to simply live with, and grow in friendship with their neighbors.

In this letter they talk about their neighbors Nicole and Donald, who wanted to get married, who put a face onto the reality that studies call, the "marriage divide", a pressing social problem that many who talk about poverty either ignore or downplay.

Read their latest letter and send them a donation if you can, and keep them in your prayers definitely. This the Gospel lived out!

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Two neat stories from the Christian East

Those who know me, know of my love for the Christian East. When in SC, I used to go occasionally to St. Igantios Melkite parish in Augusta. [And I am so blessed to have met with and conversed with the late Fr. Daniel Munn.] While in Washington DC,  Holy Transfiguration Melkite was an oasis of liturgical sanity during my novitiate with the CSPs. At the Mount, I was blessed to sing in the schola for the annual Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom in the Byzantine-Ruthenian Rite, for my entire seminary career. I've attended an amazing Palm Sunday service at St. George's Syrian Orthodox Malankara parish in Bombay, and spent one Christmas with the (Knanaya) Syro-Malabar Archbishop of Kottayam, Kerala, and attended Midnight Qurbana in his Cathedral.

Two small articles that just came across my radar makes me reminisce of my experience of the Eastern Church. As a parish priest, it is impossible for me to go anywhere for Divine Liturgy on a Sunday, of course, since I have my commitments to my own people. They also involve places in the world close to my heart: Georgia, and India!

The latest issue of the Georgia Bulletin has a report on the ordination of a new Deacon at the Melkite parish in Atlanta, St. John Chrysostom (house in a unique building). Deacon Elie Hanna was ordained on August 10 in the parish. The description of the liturgy is lovely. This little bit made me chuckle.
"Melkite worship uses the Byzantine rite, where the liturgy is chanted, Communion is always given under the species of both bread and wine, and the celebrant traditionally faces east." 
 This is also the tradition of the Roman Rite, at least the chanting and the orientation. Would that we would remember it! It seems to harm no one in the East at all. In contrast, our own recent history is a sad tale of the deleterious effects of the abandonment of our own traditions. This is simply an aside, however. Read the whole piece

(Photo from the Georgia Bulletin)
The magazine ONE, a publication of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, always has interesting pieces on the lives of Christians from the far corners of the globe. The Summer 2014 issue is no exception. This piece ("Caste Aside") focuses on the lives of Dalit Catholics in a remote corner of Uttar Pradesh, who are served by a Syro-Malabar priest. India is perhaps one of the few places where  Eastern Catholic Churches are involved in huge missionary enterprises. For years, the Eastern Churches complained that new mission territory was only given to Roman Churches. Eventually the Bishops of India managed to agree. The Syro-Malabar church is now a missionary powerhouse. I was aware that in m y parents' home state of Gujarat, the region of Saurashtra has a missionary Syro-Malabar Eparchy, and the Holy Qurbana, in keeping with Eastern custom, is celebrated in the vernacular. The same is true of this part of eastern Uttar Pradesh, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Eparchy of Bijnor. The article is entirely worth a read -- a tale of deep faith and courage, as these poor Dalit villagers have found dignity, self-worth, healing and meaning in Prabhu Jisu. 
His entire family was baptized more than three years ago after prayers, he says, healed his elder brother. 
“We had spent lot of money for his treatment. But it was Prabhu Jisu (Lord Jesus) who cured my brother,” Mr. Masih says, adding that he had a vision of Jesus in a dream asking him to spend less time at work and more time in prayer. 
“We pray in the morning and evening,” he adds with a sonorous voice that can often be heard adding its color and vigor to the satsang.
If you are able, send a small donation to CNEWA for the amazing work that they support! (Also read the author's back story on how they ended up in this remote corner of Uttar Pradesh. The beautiful photos can be accessed in this format of the story.) 

(Photo from CNEWA ONE magazine)
These stories are a beautiful reminder of the catholicity of Christ's Church, and her mission to evangelize, here at home, and across the globe! 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

St. Augustine

Statue of St. Augustine, Pavia, Italy
I have grown so much in love for this great Doctor of the Church, whose memory the Church commemorates today.

At the beginning of this year, on the very first day of 2014, in fact, I was privileged to visit his tomb in Pavia, just south of Milan, with my close friend, Fr. Marc.

It is a quiet church, with a stunningly beautiful medieval marble "arc" built over the tomb.

I read a few of Pope Benedict's catecheses on this saint (a must read really), in this church. He devoted five Wednesday audiences to preach about his beloved Augustine. I felt a real warmth, as well as sadness (oh I miss him!), on reading the Pope Emeritus' teachings in this very spot, which he himself had visited as Supreme Pontiff in 2007.

This paragraph from his fourth catechesis was especially powerful. One can see here the Holy Father's love for St. Augustine shining forth, a love that I too share.
A fresco in the Lateran that dates back to the fourth century shows that the iconographical tradition already depicted St Augustine with a book in his hand, suggesting, of course, his literary opus which had such a strong influence on the Christian mentality and Christian thought, but it also suggests his love for books and reading as well as his knowledge of the great culture of the past. At his death he left nothing, Possidius recounts, but "recommended that the library of the church with all the codes be kept carefully for future generations", especially those of his own works. In these, Possidius stresses, Augustine is "ever alive" and benefits his readers, although "I believe that those who were able to see and listen to him were able to draw greater benefit from being in touch with him when he himself was speaking in church, and especially those who experienced his daily life among the people" (Vita Augustini, 31). Yes, for us too it would have been beautiful to be able to hear him speaking. Nonetheless, he is truly alive in his writings and present in us, and so we too see the enduring vitality of the faith to which he devoted his entire life.
And here, in the fifth, and last, catechesis:
Augustine converted to Christ who is truth and love, followed him throughout his life and became a model for every human being, for all of us in search of God. This is why I wanted to ideally conclude my Pilgrimage to Pavia by consigning to the Church and to the world, before the tomb of this great lover of God, my first Encyclical entitled Deus Caritas Est. I owe much, in fact, especially in the first part, to Augustine's thought. Even today, as in his time, humanity needs to know and above all to live this fundamental reality: God is love, and the encounter with him is the only response to the restlessness of the human heart; a heart inhabited by hope, still perhaps obscure and unconscious in many of our contemporaries but which already today opens us Christians to the future, so much so that St Paul wrote that "in this hope we were saved" (Rom 8: 24). I wished to devote my second Encyclical to hope, Spe Salvi, and it is also largely indebted to Augustine and his encounter with God. 
Pope St. John Paul II also devoted a Wednesday Audience to St. Augustine, back on August 28, 1986. My homily at Mass earlier today was on the three errors of the young Augustine that Pope John Paul alluded to:
... first, a mistaken, account of the relationship between reason and faith, so that he would have to choose between them; second, in the supposed contrast between Christ and the Church, with the consequent conviction that it was necessary to abandon the Church in order to belong more fully to Christ; and third, the desire to free himself from the consciousness of sin, not by means of the remission of sin through the working of grace, but by means of the denial of the involvement of human responsibility in the sin itself ...

Photos from the Church of St. Augustine in Pavia follow:

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A day in the life of ...

Wednesday, August 27, 2014. Memorial of St. Monica

6:50 am Alarm goes off (5 minutes later than usual). Morning offering. Get up. Check phone (real quick don't dawdle!), check blood pressure (normal, phew), cup of tea, Divine Office/meditation, get ready for Mass

8:30 am Holy Mass

9:05 am Bowl of cereal, some phone calls, emails. Shower. Meanwhile, more messages, email, and one from a funeral home.

10:15 am first appointment. Word comes through that one of our Auxiliaries is trying to get a hold of me. [What? What did I do?] Call his office, leave message

11:00 am second appointment

11:45 am Appointment (made just this morning), doesn't show. Mental note to contact person later. Couple of more emails. Get stuff out of sacristy to take to new campus for Adoration tonight.

12:05 pm lunch in my room. [Reading: "The Mass: A Study of the Roman Rite" by Adrian Fortescue]

12:20 pm Head to funeral home to bless a body. Catholic family, not very active. Since the Blessed Sacrament is in the car with me, chant (Adoro te Devote) and pray.

1:10 pm Head to our new campus/parish office. Get Adoration paraphernalia into chapel, Blessed Sacrament into the Tabernacle. Clear out mailbox (more messages).

1:45 pm Soccer Field: the entire parish school has gathered for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. The Principal, staff, and athletes are taking the challenge, having been tagged by the local Catholic high school. Give a brief talk about why we're donating to the JPII Medical Research Institute, and the immorality of embryonic-stem-cell research. The parents of a school alumnus who died at the age of 26 from ALS are present and acknowledged. Lots of fun and good cheer.

SJS Staff and students get doused!
2:15 pm A bit of a breather. Pray. Emails, messages, looking at calendars. Some phone tag. Get file ready for next appointment. Post +ABG's Ice Bucket Challenge vid to social media.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

So I accepted the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge ...

... after having pointed out the ethical problems in donating to the ALSA, the main recipient of donations from the viral social-media phenomenon.

Fr. Michael Duffy mentioned the John Paul II Medical Research Institute as an acceptable alternative.

So, after the Sunday evening Mass, I gathered a few folks, and this is what ensued.

Today, I am finally getting around to sending off that check to the JP2MRI ... and guess what, they're getting more than expected traffic on their website. I suspect it's because of the increased publicity they're getting. Cool!  

Google gives the address of the JP2MRI as

540 E Jefferson St, Iowa City, IA 52245

Send them a check! 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Centenary of the Death of Pope St. Pius X

August 20 marks the centenary of the death of Pope St. Pius X (reigned 1903-1914). A simple parish priest, who was later elevated to the episcopacy, made a Cardinal, and then Patriarch of Venice, and eventually was elected to the Throne of St. Peter (after the last exercise of the Imperial veto prevented the favorite, Cardinal Mariano Rompolla from being elected), he never forgot his experience as a parish priest. He had a burning love for the Most Holy Eucharist, and it was his desire that children receive the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament early, at the age of reason, that led to the current shape of the Sacraments of Initiation by children in the Western Church -- Baptism, First Holy Communion followed by Confirmation. He was an ardent reformer (his motto, "Omnia Instaurare in Christo" -- "To restore all things in Christ"), with a real love for the liturgy: he promoted Gregorian chant (which was not much in use in his day -- that hasn't changed) as the music native to the Roman Rite, as well as the Breviary, while commissioning a new translation of the Vulgate, a Catechism and the codification of Canon Law (which work was completed by his successor, Benedict XIV in 1917, giving the Church the first ever Code of Canon Law). A staunch defender of true doctrine, he combatted various modern philosophical and intellectual errors, with the encyclicals Lamentabili Sane Exitu (1907) and Pascendi Dominici Gregis (1910), as well as introducing the Oath against Modernism. He dreaded the coming of war to Europe, and died heartbroken a few weeks after it started. He was canonized in 1954, in a ceremony with nearly 800,000 attending, by Pope Pius XII.

[A short online biography of the saintly Pope.]

1954 was also the year in which the Diocese of Atlanta was formed from the 71 northern counties of the Diocese of Savannah-Atlanta (the co-Cathedral being added to the Diocese of Savannah in 1936). Thus, Pope St. Pius X was chosen as the co-Patron of the new Diocese, after the Most Immaculate Heart of Mary (the Cathedral being dedicated to Our Blessed Lord, Christ the King). The See was elevated to Metropolitan status in 1962.

My chalice (a gift from my mother, which I acquired at an online churchware site) has a connection to Pope St. Pius X. Inside the base plate are the words, "Offert Par PP Pie X" (in French -- "Offered by Pope Pius X) and his motto, "Omnia Instaurare in Christo." According to the dealer notes, this chalice, made in the Vatican during the reign of Pope Pius IX (his arms are on the node), was a gift to the Cardinal Archbishop of Lyon, by Pope Pius X. I have no real way of verifying this claim, however. Still, it gives me great joy to think that the chalice that has come into my stewardship for the duration of my priesthood in this earthly life, was associated with this saintly Pope.

In 1955, Pope St. Pius X's feast was assigned to September 5, which is when it is celebrated in the Extraordinary Form, as a feast of the IIIrd class. In the reformed calendar, his feast is an obligatory Memorial, celebrated on August 21, the day after his death (August 20 being reserved to St. Bernard, a Doctor of the Church).

Through the intercession of St. Pius X, may we gain a greater love and zeal for the Most Holy Eucharist, a love for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, a desire to learn and defend the true faith against errors and heresy, and may be invite the Holy Spirit to make all things new in Christ in our own lives.

UPDATE: I forgot completely to mention the first-class relic of Pope St. Pius X which I acquired in seminary.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Life in Christ: Twenty Years On

Twenty years ago today, on this great Solemnity of Our Lady, I was baptized into the death of Jesus Christ, to rise with Him in the Resurrection. I was sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation, and received my Lord and Savior in the Most Holy Eucharist for the first time as I was incorporated into his Mystical Body, His Bride, the Church,

What a ride it's been! The Lord's mercies are everlasting! In a talk back in 2001, then Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio said these remarkable words, which burned into my soul as I read them the night of his election to the Throne of St. Peter:

"Only someone who has encountered mercy, who has been caressed by the tenderness of mercy, is happy and comfortable with the Lord. ... I dare to say that the privileged locus of the encounter is the caress of the mercy of Jesus Christ on my sin."

I know this to be so true. He has sought me in so many ways all these years. I have returned but a meager love, a paltry love, halting and meandering; a reluctant, reticent, repentance; a heart mired in self-love, that hearkens still to the sibilant sound of sin; a heart that has been and is, so haughty and oh so prideful. Yet He loves.

Yet He loves.

He never stops. His grace, one sweet drop at a time, burning and delightful, tears down the walls of pride, and heals the wayward will. The old man dies, as the new man laboriously comes forth.

Absorbeat quaeso, Domine, mentem meam et cor meum, ignita et meliflua vis amoris tui, de omnibus quae in mundo sunt, ut amore amoris tui moriar, qui amore amoris mei dignatus es mori.

"May my soul and my heart, O Lord, be absorbed, I pray, by the fiery honey-like power of your love, from all that is in the world, so that I may die for love of your love, who deigned to die for love of my love." (St. Francis)

Sweet Mother, who have been so faithful, so devoted to me, this unworthy fool, draw me ever closer to Him. On this anniversary of my consecration to Christ in holy baptism, I consecrate myself again to you, to your Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart. Pray that one day after traversing this land of exile, I will rejoice with you and the Heavenly Host, to behold Him face to face, your Son, Jesus Christ Our Lord, the desire of the nations, my Lord, my Savior, my King, my joy, my love, my all.

Please join me in praying a Te Deum today!

[This was posted on Facebook on August 14, 2014]